The Kyiv Biennial Will Return to Ukraine Against the Logic of War

The 2023 biennial will focus on the displacement of artists and the traumatic effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the seemingly impossible task of staging a contemporary art event in Ukraine amid the nation’s invasion by Russian forces, organizers behind the Kyiv Biennial confirmed that its fifth edition will take place this October. The international exhibition will be hosted in the capital of Kyiv and the Ukrainian cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Uzhhorod, before moving to Vienna, Warsaw and Berlin.

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Boy wrapped in Ukrainian flag waves another flag atop a destroyed tank
Running through October, the Kyiv Biennial will take place in three Ukrainian cities. Alexey Furman/Getty Images

“Instead of abandoning the project and thus submitting to the logic of war that attacks everything civil, the 2023 Biennial draws upon its founding idea: that of being a multi-centric initiative in a European, interconnected and solidary form,” said the show’s organizers in a statement.

Vienna’s Augarten Contemporary will be the main international location of the biennial, followed by a museum symposium in Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art and several art programs taking place in Berlin in 2024. But before the biennial travels beyond Ukraine’s borders, Kyiv’s Dovzhenko Centre, Ivano-Frankivsk’s Asortymentna Kimnata and Uzhhorod’s Sorry, No Rooms Available will showcase presentations and events in their “endangered yet working infrastructures.” Both Ivano-Frankivsk and Uzhhorod, which are located in Western Ukraine and away from the frontlines of Russia’s invasion, have housed evacuated artists over the past year and plan to exhibit artwork produced during the war, according to Artnet News.

Organized by the non-profit Visual Culture Research Center, the Kyiv Biennial first launched in 2015 with the School of Kyiv, which explored dialogue between Ukrainian and international artists through six platforms. Its second edition, The Kyiv International, explored ideas of internationalism, followed by the 2019 show, Black Cloud, which focused on the political and cultural role of modern technology. In 2019, the Kyiv Biennial examined Eastern European alliances through Allied. The arts initiative has since become a co-founding member of the East Europe Biennial Alliance, and in 2022, it launched the Emergency Support Initiative to fund residencies and projects for artists affected by the Russian invasion.

Connecting scattered artists across Ukraine and Europe

The upcoming show, which is primarily funded by international foundations, hopes to reconnect Ukrainian artists who have been displaced across Europe. With a strategic aim that goes beyond curatorship and centers on restoration and rehabilitation, the event has turned into a long-running international project, according to its organizers—akin to a “Kyiv Perennial” instead of a biennial.

This year’s edition, which has no unifying title, is aimed against the logic of war and will squarely focus on the nation’s ongoing trauma “How can a country at war address political, social, cultural and societal issues?” stated the biennial’s organizers. “Today, the experience of artists and cultural workers in Ukraine is profoundly marked by war trauma, displacement, lack of access to basic resources and, in many cases, direct involvement in armed resistance or the experience of life under military occupation.”

Kyiv’s Dovzhenko Centre, which will kick off the biennial on October 5, plans to showcase works related to the history of the Dnipro River and its recent role in the Russian breach of the Kakhovka Dam. Other aspects of the upcoming edition, which will announce its exhibitors next month, explore the environmental damage of the war, touching on topics like biodiversity loss, pollution of natural resources, poisoned land and mined territories.

The Kyiv Biennial Will Return to Ukraine Against the Logic of War